ASTANA – Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on July 1 welcomed British Prime Minister David Cameron to the presidential Akorda residence as part of the first visit by a serving British Prime Minister to Kazakhstan since the two countries established relations more than 20 years ago.The two leaders discussed avenues to further strengthen bilateral relations and discussed pressing international issues.
“Our country is interested in having a close relationship with the United Kingdom. It is good that your visit began with Atyrau – Kazakhstan’s leading oil region. I am sure that the documents prepared for signing, as well as our negotiations will give new impetus for economic and political cooperation between our two countries,” Nazarbayev said as he opened the talks.
“I should say that I am really impressed with what I saw yesterday at the Kashagan field and at the Nazarbayev University and with the students whom I met today. All this convinced me of the wide range of mutual interests in the dynamic relations between the two countries in the frames of our strategic partnership,” Cameron said thanking Nazarbayev for welcoming him to the country.
“Last year, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between our countries. Yesterday, you (Prime Minister Cameron) and I launched one of the world’s largest oil fields at Kashagan. Trade turnover between our countries in 2012 reached US$2.3 billion. I think we will be able to increase significantly these figures… We are grateful to the United Kingdom for including Kazakhstan in the list of 14 countries it wants to develop business with. It is fully in line with our economic interests,” Nazarbayev said.
President Nazarbayev also noted that for the first time the two nations have signed a declaration on strategic partnership, a reflection of the attention both countries are giving to their relations.
“I am delighted to be here in Astana today. As you say, the first serving British Prime Minister to come to Kazakhstan and, frankly, such a visit is long overdue… Today we’ve agreed to open a new chapter in our relationship. The strategic partnership agreement that we’ve just signed will take our relationship to a new level, a relationship based on strong economic ties, on closer cooperation on security and defence, and on increasing links between our people,” Cameron told Nazarbayev as the two leaders addressed a joint press conference in Akorda.
The Prime Minister mentioned that there are a number of areas where the countries have been actively cooperating. This includes issues of regional security, stability in Afghanistan, military-technical cooperation, as well as trade, economic and investment cooperation.
He has also underlined his delight at the fact that the air transit agreement has been ratified for British troops and equipment that will be leaving Afghanistan in the following months and that countries were looking forward to the completion of the surface transit agreement. Cameron went on to emphasize the growing cooperation in the area of education and the growing number of Kazakhstan students in the UK.
“The UK is one of Kazakhstan’s key partners and the third largest foreign investor in our country,” President Nazarbayev said. “We are ready to further strengthen our dialogue with Great Britain according to the formula, ‘raw materials in exchange for the investment in new technologies’.”
“We’ve also agreed to develop our cooperation in green economy and renewable energy, which of course corresponds to the goals of the British government as well. And a good basis for that is the upcoming EXPO 2017 in Astana under the topic, ‘Future Energy’. So I invite British companies to take part in hosting that,” the President continued.
The President said that during negotiations parties discussed a wide range of international topics, such as the situation in Central Asia, the interactions and relations between the major countries, including among the Customs Union countries of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, the issues of Afghanistan, Iran, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, as well as the situation in the Middle East.
He also expressed satisfaction with the agreed upon plans to expand air links between Kazakhstan and Britain.
“As for the Air Astana air company, we will do our utmost to broaden the flight geography and the flight safety of our flights on Air Astana. We also welcome the signing of the contract between the Kazakhstan Gharysh Sapary and the British SSTL Company to create a new satellite and transfer the technology to our country,” Nazarbayev continued.
“Kazakhstan is on the rise, a dynamic country that is poised to become a high income country by the end of this decade. And a country that also wants to play a bigger role in the region and in the world, not just an emerging market but an emerging power. That is why I want to strengthen relations between our two countries to help us both to succeed in the global race,” Prime Minister Cameron said at the press conference.
Commercial deals worth more than 700 million pounds
The signing of agreements worth more than 700 million pounds (more than US$1 billion) between some of Kazakhstan’s and Britain’s largest companies also followed the talks.
Kazakhstan’s Samruk Kazyna National Welfare Fund signed Memorandums of Understanding with the Institute of Directors Company and WS Atkins and Partners Overseas. The agreements were signed by Samruk Kazyna Board Chairman Umirzak Shukeyev and Institute of Directors Chairman Ian Dormer and WS Atkins and Partner Overseas Executive Director Dr. Uwe Krueger.
Deputy Director of Samryk Kazyna Dauren Yerdebay and Head of Civil and Military Projects Department at UK Export Finance John Snowdon also signed an MoU on behalf of their organizations.
An agreement between the National Atomic Company KazAtomProm and the Moller Centre at Churchill College, University of Cambridge was signed by the KazAtomProm Chairman of the Board of Directors Vladimir Shkolnik and Sir David Wallace.
Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Industry and New Technologies signed an agreement with UK-based mining and metals company Rio Tinto.
An agreement on cooperation between the Astana City Hall, British Council and Kilfrost Limited was also signed by Astana Deputy Mayor Kanat Sultanbekov, British Council Executive Director Martin Davidson and Director General of Kilfrost Limited Harry Liedyait.
An agreement was also signed between Kazakhtelecom and Weightless Contracting by Kazakhtelecom Board Chairman Kuanyshbek Yesekeyev and Weightless Contracting Chairman Maxim Bautin.A tripartite memorandum on cooperation between Kazgeology, Kaznex Invest and Dando Drilling International was also signed by Kazgeology Chairman of the Board Galym Nurzhanov, KaznexInvest Deputy Chairman of the Board Kayrat Karmanov and Dando Drilling International Director Martin Fitch-Roy.
A Memorandum of Association between LLP KazTurboRemont and Wood Group was signed by LLP KazTurboRemont Deputy Director General Bolat Mashikov and Wood Group Senior Vice President Alistair Green.
Media questions range from human rights to visas to multiculturalism
Following the signing of the strategic partnership declaration and their statements at the press conference, the two leaders fielded questions from the British and the Kazakh media which ranged from issues of democracy and human rights to problems with getting British visas to the collapse of the multiculturalism in Europe.
The first question addressed to both Nursultan Nazarbayev and David Cameron addressed the issues of democracy and human rights head on.
“I believe the journalist that just asked the question probably visits our country for the first time, so that happens, it’s pretty normal, when a person, when someone from your isles, maybe some people see that it’s a country from the Middle Ages where people are still riding camels and horses… As for the human rights issues, I believe Kazakhstan has ensured fundamental human rights. We have free elections, we have three political parties in the parliament, we have the opposition, there are three thousand media outlets including foreign ones, we have no political oppression,” Nursultan Nazarbayev commented.
He invited the journalists to stay in Kazakhstan to look around and to talk to the people to get a better grasp of the situation in the country.
President Nazarbayev agreed that Kazakhstan has not reached the level of democracy in Europe or Great Britain, but he suggested taking into account the longer time Britain’s parliamentary democracy has been evolving.
“Of course our way should not be as long as that, but of course the dynamics of that way, of that path, I believe is very correct,” he said.
“For the first time in our country, in our history, we’ve achieved our independence… so the key asset for us is independence. We have no right for mistakes; that’s why we’re moving very carefully. But thank you very much certainly for the recommendations, for the advice, but nobody has a right to instruct us on how to live,” the President responded.
Cameron replied that he has discussed human rights situation in Kazakhstan with President Nazarbayev and “nothing is off the table.”
Another press question related to the visa applications process and the difficulties Kazakhstan citizens face in getting the visas with only one visa processing center in Almaty serving the world’s ninth largest country by landmass. The situation is further complicated by the fact that visa applications and passports are then from to Istanbul in Turkey for review and issue, which adds significantly the time to visa processing and, in certain cases, has already caused embarassment to the British government.
“I absolutely understand the concern about this issue. First of all, let me say that I think we do grant around 95% of the visas that Kazakhs have applied for… Today we’ve announced that as well as having the visa application sent in Almaty, we also have this business bridge so that people working for particular Kazakh businesses can get their visas here in Astana,” Cameron noted.
He was also asked to comment on the recent story of the armless artist Karipbek Kuyukov, Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project, whose application for the British visa was turned down by a visa officer in Istanbul on the grounds that he didn’t provide a good quality picture of his fingerprints.
“In terms of the artist, the disabled person that you mentioned, that was clearly a deeply regrettable episode and is being put right, and that shouldn’t have happened. And as I discussed with the President, as well as these recent improvements, we’re obviously happy to look at what more that we can do right,” Cameron added. When the situation became public in April, the UK issued an apology to Kuyukov.
A question from a Daily Telegraph reporter to President Nazarbayev was probably meant to be more than a tongue-in-cheek comment: “President Nazarbayev, first question for you: you’ve enjoyed great success in your country’s elections, what advice would you give to Mr Cameron who is facing a difficult election of his own in 2015?”
“Well, I believe that for a great country with great traditions such as Great Britain, Kazakhstan maybe doesn’t have a moral right to actually give advice,” Nazarbayev said. “But given my huge political experience I have been monitoring the activities of Mr Cameron and the way he actually protects the interests of the British people all over the world, in all areas, and I think he will be definitely demanded. Personally, I would vote for him – you know, personally.”
“That’s one – I’ve just got about another 20 million and I’m in business. Thank you, Mr President,” came the reply from Cameron eliciting laughter from all those present.
The Telegraph also asked Cameron how his calls for more students from Kazakhstan squares with the country’s limitations on student bonds.
“There is no limit on the number of overseas students who can come to Britain and study at a British university. What they need to have is an English language qualification and a place at a British university but there’s no limit on the numbers that can come. And it’s important for that message to be heard by young Kazakhs, some of whom I met this morning at Nazarbayev University, and also, if they get a graduate job they can continue to work in Britain having graduated,” Cameron said.
The final question was addressed to both leaders and dealt with the oft-mentioned collapse of multiculturalism in Europe, as evidenced by the recent killing of soldiers in London.
“Well, I think both our countries are good examples of how you can have a successful multiracial, multi-ethnic democracy and country, and that has to be based on tolerance, it has to be based on mutual respect and understanding. But I think there is one thing we should be intolerant of, and that is extremism. And we should be very clear that it’s completely wrong to see Islam as anything other than a religion of peace. And it’s also completely wrong to pretend, as some do, that somehow Islam and democracy aren’t compatible,” Cameron said.
“Well, maybe because Kazakhstan has a huge experience of when several ethnic groups live with each other, historically there have been many ethnic groups, many nationalities… we’ve had many ethnic groups that have been living here for so many years, which is completely different in a European country. But of course, we are ready to share our experience. We have over 130 ethnic groups, over 40 religious groups, our constitution ensures the equal rights for all regardless of religion, race, language or whatever. And if you look at this city you have a Muslim mosque and a Christian church, a Synagogue, and a Buddhist temple and anybody can peacefully practise their religion, whatever they want. So globally, of course, when we have that kind of interaction, you know, we have no other choice but to bring closer the civilizations – I think that’s the future of the civilization – to bring closer different cultures,” Nazarbayev added as they concluded the press conference.
Before David Cameron left Kazakhstan, the two leaders also addressed the closing ceremony of the Kazakh-British Business Forum. Nursultan Nazarbayev also took his guest on a short tour around Astana showing him the Norman Foster-designed Khan Shatyr shopping mall, the famous world’s largest tent, and the newly built Astana Opera house.
As Cameron’s visit was the first by the serving British head of government since Kazakhstan’s independence, officials on both sides pin high hopes it will significantly strengthen the already existing ties between the two nations.